Street Photography: from digital, to film and my Leica experience

Posted: February 22, 2014 in Street
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ChevyI have been walking the streets of Perth shooting street photography since 2010.  There are many definitions and rules of street photography floating around the Internet and I do not buy into them, I shoot through my eyes and shoot what I feel is right at the time.

I started shooting with a Nikon DSLR and thought that I would become a high fashion photographer, but what I found that I was doing more was carrying my camera with me daily and just shooting everything I saw that interested me. I shot people, structures, landscapes, shadows, light, forms and shapes.

streetography, through my eyes was born.

Soon enough I was sick of luging around a heavy DSLR with giant lenses and started looking for something more practical.  Of course I read all of the gear review sites to find the best camera and at the time my choice was a mirror less camera, a Panasonic GX1.  The GX1 was a good camera, it was small and light with great image quality but I never got used not having a viewfinder.  I soon upgraded to a Olympus OM-D E-M5, this was a great camera indeed and did everything I needed in street photography.  Like many others I had become caught up in gear and bought every lens under the sun.  Not sure when it happened but I soon realized that I did not need all of the lenses I had purchased and decided to sell most of them, sticking with just two: A Voigtlander manual lens for street and a standard zoom for my family photos.  Then came the new faster Pro Olympus OM-D E-M1…yes I bought it, changed my usual family lens to a pro zoom and changed my Voigtlander from 25mm to 17.5mm (that is another article…)

Amongst buying mirrorless cameras I also became interested in 35mm film again, dusting off the old Minolta X300 I found that it was long dead so I needed a new film camera.  eBay here I come, in a matter of months I had replaced my X300, bought a vintage Contax and added a Nikon FM2 to the kit.  But I wanted more, I wanted the ultimate street photography camera to shoot film like all the big guns, of course it would make my photos better, that’s how us gear mongers justify our purchases.  I was on a quest; I needed to own a Leica M6, but first I need the cash.

I sold all but one of my film cameras, together with the proceeds from selling the m4/3 I had enough to buy my dream street photography camera and I did.

No photosThe first time shooting with a Leica system  was definitely an interesting experience, I had never shot with a rangefinder before and didn’t really know what to expect.  I thought that the focusing was odd and wondered what I had gotten myself into, but after shooting the first roll of film I was got the hang of the rangefinder system pretty quick and soon became an expert in my own lunchbox. Over the coming months I shot many rolls of film through the M6, mostly Kodak Portra 400 for colour or Tri-X 400 for b&w with good  results.  There is definitely something special about photos taken with a Leica, or was it all in my mind.  Though I found the rangefinder focusing  easy,  I mainly used zone focusing while shooting the streets.  You don’t get any faster focusing than instant, even changing aperture and shutter speed was very quick due to the ergonomics of the camera and lens.

My style of shooting the streets with manual focus lenses on the M6iPad-ography, even with my EM-1 is to set the aperture to f/11 and leave it set, only if the light was really dull I would possibly change to something more suitable.  All I needed to worry about was shutter speed, which is quick to change on the fly.  Shooting the M6 was like riding a bike for me and I enjoyed the film experience more than ever. It was a real head turner, on occasions I was stopped by people wanting to look at the M6, talk about it and ask all types of questions, how it was, where I got it from etc.  Hey people, what about my photography!

Though, my old FM2 didn’t get much use anymore, which was a shame as it is an awesome classic 35mm camera.  I needed the cash for whatever reason and decided to sell off some gear, the FM2 could do everything I needed and the M6 was worth more so unfortunately the M6 had to go.

The love affair with Leica came to an abrupt end and now I shoot more digital with the E-M1 and Voigtlander 17.5mm, but when I do shoot film I use the FM2.

  1. Noel English says:

    Great article Sean!
    I would definitely consider an Oly for street work.
    I use the D610 and a 24-120 at present, which I enjoy more than the D700, as it is so much smaller.
    Until recently, I had a D7000 and a stack of DX lenses, but I sold off all the DX kit as there was something about DX that I did not feel right to me and I was not happy with the images.
    The D610 which is the replacement for the D7000 is superb.
    I still have the D700 which is a great camera also.
    I hope we can catch up for a shoot sometime.

    • Thanks Noel, appreciate you taking the time to read my article. Yes the Oly is definitely a winner in the street, just so fast and nimble, I love it. What I haven’t mentioned in my article is the cameras that I use for my studio, sports and event work. I have a D800, love it to death and though it is big with the pro lenses, it feels fantastic. Will definitely have to get out, I may try and arrange a street event in the coming months (when it is a bit cooler)

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